Ah Tech Week. Referred to as “Hell Week” in many a theatre, as a stage manager it has always been one of my favorite parts of mounting a show. I’ve just finished the initial weekend of tech/dress for Up the Down Staircase at The Western Stage. With 27 people in the cast, approximately 100 light cues, 27 sound cues, countless props, and upwards of 90 different costume “looks” this show is less than straightforward. That being said, this past weekend was one of the smoothest tech processes I’ve ever had the privilege of being part of.
So, you ask (and you’re asking right?) how was this accomplished? Obviously a tremendous amount of work was done by all the designers and cast but let me break down for you some of what I do as a stage manager to prep for tech.
1) Schedule: At least a week prior to tech I’ve worked out the exact schedule for the week, coordinating with designers and crew and cast so everyone knows what will be happening when. Knowing what to expect at each rehearsal stops a lot of potential frustration on the part of the cast and designers. The more specific you can be the better.
2) Safety: So you’ve gone through the last 3 or 4 weeks of rehearsal with the regular work lights on, everyone can see all the sharp edges on the set, the props on the table and the cracks on the floor. Once you start tech and add stage lights that all changes. As the stage manager you know the traffic patterns of the show- walk the set, setting up work lights where needed, adding small bits of glow tape where needed. Anything an actor is expected to walk on- you walk first. Better something happen to the Stage Manager than the Actor.
3)Organization: Lists, lists, lists. Lists are a Stage Manager’s best friend. For tech prep, have a prop list notating where each prop enters from makes setting up your prop tables a breeze. Have a to-do list for each crew member- including what times tasks are to be completed by. Have places for the actors to sit backstage, places for them to put their water bottles (or if you’re providing water coolers, places for them and their trash). Know where quick changes are going to happen, know where scenery will be stored in the wings. Making sure everything planned out before actors ever enter the theater means one less thing that can go wrong at tech.
In the end though, the key to a good tech is to enjoy it. Yeah the hours are long, the designers and director may be tense. But you’re the Stage Manager- prepped and ready to go and cool under fire. Having a smile on your face and confidence in the production go a long way to assure every, cast and crew alike, that your show is going to come together.
If you’re interested in seeing Up the Down Staircase at The Western Stage it opens this Friday May 6th. Tickets can be bought online here.